Helena Hauff’s music and the music she plays in her sets exudes a kind of beautiful raw savagery that speaks to something primal, a unique instinctive music that can’t be curtailed into generic boxes and relays an obscure feeling that can’t be described in any literal language. Helena Hauff instills something uninhibited in her sets that go from Techno to EBM and Electro that has made her a unique entity in music and has taken her from a residency at Hamburg’s iconic Golden Pudel onto the world stage.
A DJ first and foremost Hauff’s musical education begins at a library scouring the local archives for tapes as she formed her musical tastes in the countercultural forms of electronic music. Early attempts at putting her favourite pieces together into a contextual narrative eventually led to DJing in Hamburg, where during a most fertile time for Deep House in the city, Hauff became a disparate voice in electronic music, an exciting satellite figure that brought a forgotten energy to music made reticent by stylised genre distinctions.
What started as admiration precipitated fabrication,and Hauff approached production with the same opaque and vigorous nature she did DJing, finding a uniquely distinct voice as an artist. Her sound, born in the raw beauty of a machine aesthetic, predicated what she set forth to establish as a DJ and found favour on labels like Lux Records, Werk Discs, Solar One , Ninja Tune and her own label Return to disorder. In 2015 she would go on to release her critically acclaimed debut LP, “Discreet Desires” and established herself as an dissentient luminary in her field.
Her music and sets garnered the utmost respect from peers and critics alike, a sought-after DJ that stands some distance apart from any other reference point in the DJ world. In 2017 she’s already got an “ep ready to go” and looking forward to “work on another album”, while she continues playing all over the globe.I first interviewed Helena Hauff in 2014, before her debut album, but already turning the right heads. She’ll be coming to Oslo and Jæger for the first time in February and with that I took the opportunity to catch up with the German DJ via a video call and ask her more about DJing, her album and what’s next.
Hi Helena, Are you still in Hamburg?
I am at home in Hamburg.
What have you been doing there while the Golden Pudel is still being restored?
Well, I don’t really do much. I do my work, but I don’t DJ much in Hamburg at the moment.
Will you be picking up your residency again after its restoration?
The thing with the Pudel is that there are a lot of resident DJs. When you say, you are a “resident DJ” it’s like yeah, I’m one of 50 resident DJs. It used to be open every day and every day there was a different DJ with different styles of music. When it reopens, yes, I definitely want to play there again, but I have no idea what’s gonna happen now. It was always a really good place, and I’d love to do a few nights there a year again.
And I imagine you’re still making a lot of music.
I do have time for it, but a lot of the time I’m not in the proper mindset for recording music. Coming home from touring, you are a bit knackered and tired and then you just want to relax and not do anything. I’m a bit lazy, but I feel sometimes you just have to think about making music in a different way; just think of it as a time for relaxation and not as something you have to do and you have to work on something and I have to get that in your mind at the moment.
Obviously a lot has happened since the last time we spoke, most significantly you released the album. Can you tell us a little bit of what went into making it and the reception?
I think it went pretty well. I got some good feedback from it, which is cool. I made the album in 2014 and parts of it I made in 2013. It just took a while to come out. I didn’t really know what I thought about it at the time it came out, because it took so long and when it came out, I was like “finally I got rid of all that stuff”. I am happy with it still.
It definitely has that timeless quality to it. It has that Helena Hauff sound, but you can’t really put it in a box. Do you feel however, since the album that you might have been labelled with a sound, that might have restricted your eclectic influences and musical tastes?
Not really actually, because I don’t think the album has a specific genre or anything like that. It’s kind of in between a lot of things. It’s kind of difficult for people to put me in some kind of box, which is a good thing. I’m playing a lot of Electro, fast Electro stuff and I really enjoy that, but I still play tons of different styles. I feel like I’m in a good position at the moment, because I get booked for a lot of different things. I get booked for big gigs and festivals, but I also get booked for tiny underground places and that’s pretty cool.
Although the genres and the styles you pick from is pretty broad, there’s definitely a Helena Hauff sound that brings it all together. I think somebody coined the term Punk Techno to describe your sound and it’s very distinct, not the type of stuff most record stores will stock. Do you find it hard to come by records like that?
I have mixed feelings towards that. I feel that there is more and more rough stuff coming out, but it’s not necessarily all good, because just a little bit of distortion doesn’t necessarily make a good track. So you’ve got a lot of rougher sounding tracks out there, but that’s not my main focus, and I actually like playing cleaner produced tracks as well. I just want this energy about a track, well I want it to be banging somehow. (Laughs) It doesn’t have to be distorted or rough although I like that stuff.
There’s a lot of good stuff coming out, a lot of little labels doing great stuff. I find it fairly easy buying that kind of stuff on-line. In record shops it gets a little more difficult. In Hamburg we have some good record shops, but we’ve got two million people living in Hamburg, but it’s still a fairly small city. I find stuff, but not enough good stuff for me, because I play every weekend.
Talking of small labels doing great things, your label, Return to Disorder has steadily been putting records out for the last couple of years, including your “Children of Leir“ project. When I spoke to you last you mentioned it was purely a vehicle for your eclectic musical tastes to find a way out into the world. Is that still the case?
Yeah, I want to put out everything I like, and it is mainly Techno, because I get a lot of Techno from people. The next release is Zarkoff quite soon. And after that, I’ve got a band from England called Bloodsport, and they do this post punk, with a touch of Afro, a little bit prog rock.
For my label I just want to do what I feel like doing, I don’t want to put any restrictions on myself, but I don’t have a concept for it.
Is it a side-project mostly or do you spend a lot of time and effort on it?
I kind of see it as my little hobby. (Laughs) I’m not very good at promotion. If the artist is happy to make a video for the tracks or something, yeah we can put it out, but I don’t do much promo shit. So, it’s gonna stay a fairly small the label. I really enjoy it. I really enjoy selecting music and I think it’s because I come from this DJ background and I just really like to pick things and put them together. I do spend a lot of time on it, but as I said it’s my little hobby.
I wanted to ask you about the Umwelt release specifically, because his album Days of Dissent was a personal highlight for me last year.
I had been sitting on those tracks for a year before, because it takes so much time to get stuff released.
Is Umwelt something that you came across because you played it a lot in your sets and how did this particular release happen?
Yes. We met in Lyon once when I played there. He came to my party and we had a chat and he’s a very nice guy, obviously very talented. He said: “I’m just gonna send some stuff over, maybe you want to release it”. And I was like… yeah!
That’s kind of odd though, right… since I he only releases on his own labels?
How many labels has he got?
Four, I believe.
No, he definitely he releases on other labels. I’ve got a few records from him on other labels. He releases a lot of music though. I don’t know how he does it.
He’s such a good DJ as well. He’s like a machine. He starts to play all this hard Electro stuff, non-stop, and all on record as well with really tight mixing.
And apparently a lot of what he plays is stuff he cuts on his personal lathe at home, stuff that never gets released, so pretty exclusive… but I digress, because I want your opinion on something.
When we last spoke you talked about when you started playing everything was Deep House and you were looking for something a little different and found it in Electro, EBM, synth Wave and Techno. How do you feel about the current landscape, where we’ve come full circle and Deep House is the dominant force again?
First of all, I don’t mind Deep House. When I started going clubbing in Hamburg the Smallville people and Dial people used to organise a lot of parties in the city. It was pretty cool, and there was a proper little scene around them. There were people playing other stuff, but they weren’t as prominent. It was mainly House music, and from there I got into House music and the rougher stuff, and I was buying a lot of Electro at that time as well. And now, Deep House has never gone away. It’s always gonna be there, which isn’t a surprise, because people really seem to like it.
I feel at the momenta lot of the Techno stuff is going into a more Transy direction. I think the next big thing is going to be some kind of modern Techno version of Trance.
Like The stuff coming from Dekmantel UFO from the likes of Voiski and Peter van Hoesen?
Yes, I have the Voiski one.
I’m not really into Trance, but I like the kind of early Trance before it really was Trance. It had all the elements in there, but it was quite rough and raw sounding, and it hasn’t got the big room thing about it, and it’s got all those little Trance elements about it. I started playing that a lot, three or four years ago and I realised I’m really into it, and I saw a lot of other DJs playing similar things. I like parts of it, but if it goes too Trancy I’m out of it. I definitely like it, and I think it’s about time that it comes back, because it’s not been around for awhile now.
Can you give us an example of what sort of new music would fall in your wheelhouse?
Konstantin Sibold is a good friend of mine from Germany, and he had this track called “mutter” from last year. I remember him asking me whether this is too much, and it got released and it was a big hit. It got quite big, and that’s not the only one. You mentioned the Voiski one and there are plenty of examples, but I just can’t think of any at the moment.
It certainly is a contrast to the droning functional Techno we’ve been exposed to since 2013, but do you think it will have a lot of staying power?
It’s hard to say. It’s gonna be a bit like the Acid thing or the distortion Techno and House stuff, where people use certain elements and blend them in with other things and make a more modern version of that old sound.
The thing is though, I wonder if Electro is ever going to get big again.
I would love for 2017 to be Electro’s year.
It happens more and more to me, that I play after support acts and they play a lot of Electro and that definitely didn’t happen to me three years ago. There were people around doing Electro and playing Electro and you had loads of release. That never stopped, because you had nerds sitting around making one Electro track after another, and they are all great, but I didn’t see a lot of people playing it. Now it feels like a lot people are taking it and mixing it with Techno and stuff and I’ve not seen that before, so it seems like there is some kind of little movement. How big it’s going to get that’s another question.
I think Electro itself is possibly a bit too weird for it to be a really big thing and have really big Electro artists, like the Ben Klock of Electro. I’m not sure if that’s ever going to happen. Perhaps there will be another electroclash movement, rather than a pure electro movement, because that can appeal to a wider audience.
Because the vocals often bridge a gap for a more populace crowd.
Yes, the catchy synth lines and stuff might catch on in a couple of years, lets see.
While we’re in the future and it’s probably time to end this interview (I’ve taken up enough of your time), where do you see yourself in that musical paradigm?
As I said earlier, I’m playing a lot of electro at the moment, but I’m playing a faster version of it now. I used to play 130-135 BPM, but now I often find myself playing 145 BPM and up and I sometimes I think might be a little bit too much for the people, but I tend to do that thing over a longer period of time, so you start slower and you slowly go a little bit faster and faster and people don’t even realise how fast you are until the act after you takes over and starts playing at 120 BPM again. I don’t think I’m gonna change that much, I’m just gonna keep doing what I do.